Saturday, 28 April 2007

I have a date

He's flying in from Australia. I have to import my dates now! Not just to meet me of course, but on business.

We met on the Friends Reunited website sometime last year. Apparently we were both stranded on the same windswept Northern campus more years ago than I care to remember. We fell into a virtual correspondence when we started to talk about a book he has written, and have maintained a desultory, sporadic 'friendship' since.

There was absolutely no hint of a more intimate agenda on either side, so I was rather taken aback when he emailed recently about his forthcoming trip and proposed that either we meet in Brighton for lunch on the day he flies back, or that we 'throw caution to the winds' and that I fly over to join him for a week in his tiny apartment in South West France. A beguiling thought indeed and it did bring a smile to my face. Imagine!

Prosaically, I am working that week and my son will be in the throws of his dreaded GCSEs, so it has to be lunch in Brighton this time round. It could be anything or nothing, but that is the intriguing thing about my situation.

You simply never know what will happen next.

Friday, 13 April 2007


The kitchen is a whirlwind of activity!

Terracotta pots are turning vanilla, pale ochre, rose madder and chambray blue under my busy fingers. Newspapers are strewn over every surface as they dry in the pale spring sunshine or wait to be stamped with hearts or stars, ready to be planted up for the summer. Tired, jaded wooden chairs have been transformed into Van Goghian subjects as I paint them heavenly blue, the same blue I shall paint the shutters of my house in the French countryside. In my dreams. Only the sunflowers are missing.

The sun is shining and I am consumed with a desire to paint things and there is no shortage of things that need to be painted. Those old 1980's pine chests of drawers and tables look very chic when reinvented as French painted furniture.

Sadly the desire to paint will evaporate as quickly as it arrived and all too soon the paints and brushes will disappear into the far reaches of the cupboard under the stairs which is their home for most of the year. Until the mood seizes me again.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Aftermath

Vikram has been banished from the bedroom but we are inseparable during the evenings.

I am now reading about the aftermath of the war when communications are restored and Henny gets back in touch with her old friends in Berlin. Seth uses the letters he found in the attic of Henny's house in Hendon as his source. She and her family were deeply rooted in the community they lived in and had a close-knit circle of friends. She was engaged to her employer's son.

Obviously, Henny is very preoccupied with the way her mother and sister were treated by this group of people during the run-up to their deportation in 1943. Lola, her sister, was among the last Jews to leave Berlin as her work was considered important but eventually the she and her mother were separated and sent to the death camps. The trail of letters gives a great deal of insight into the pressures put upon the German people living under the Nazis and the moral dilemmas they faced as they struggled to keep their integrity and to survive themselves. Some helped Henny's family more than others. Some had more to lose because of their own dubious ancestry. Henny's fiance married an Aryan and betrayed her to preserve himself. He was himself half Jewish. There are also first hand descriptions of the deprivations suffered by the Germans in the years after the was ended.

I find all this quite fascinating as it is an extreme version of the moral dilemmas we all face as we go through life. It also shows how difficult it is to condemn another's choices without understanding their situation.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

"Two Lives" by Vikram Seth

I hardly slept last night.

The last thing I do every night before I turn out the light is read my book. Last night I found it hard to put down. I am currently reading Vikram Seth's novel "Two Lives", in which he narrates the unusual story of his Uncle Shanti and Aunt Henny.

They both had fascinating lives and lived through turbulent times. Henny was a German Jew who came over to England in 1939, while it was still possible for Jews to travel. Last night I was riveted by Seth's description of what would have happened to her mother, Ella, and her sister, Lola, both sensitive, cultured women who were caught up in unimaginable horror. Of all the articles and books I have read about the Holocaust, I think this really brought home to me the gruesome reality. Seth does not dwell particularly on the details of their final ordeal, he just gives an outline of what their fate would have been, but the final description of the scene in the gas chamber is harrowing.

I was also reading yesterday the story of Leni Riefenstahl, the actress and film maker who collaborated with the Nazis and made propaganda films for them but who, herself, may have been Jewish. It is anathema to us now that this horror became normalised, yet it happened in Western Europe within living memory.
Also in the Sunday Times was a fascinating article by Bryan Appleyard describing the Stanford Prison Experiment which demonstrates that perfectly ordinary, well-balanced people can be turned into savage tyrants or cowering victims according to the circumstances in which they find themselves. That it is the situation that allows evil to florish.

That really is chilling.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Happy Easter

A glorious Easter weekend and I have two tall, dark, handsome young men in the house, oozing testosterone and amiability. Did I say I also have shingles? Apparently the virus that causes chicken pox lies dormant in the spinal cord and reactivates when the immune system is down - just when you are about to go on a trip!

Luckily it's not man shingles, so I have spent a satisfying weekend in the kitchen. We have had roast chicken with proper red wine gravy and roasted root vegetables, steeped in olive oil, garlic and herbs from the garden. I have even made stock from the bones for vegetable soup. Rhubarb, also from the garden, has been stewed and I have made a chocolate and almond cake.

I have been for short walks in the countryside and have sat in the orchard with our pet rabbit and the cats playing tag, drinking tea and eating too much cake. Today will be spent with the Sunday Times and a roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, potatoes dauphinoise with carrots and broccoli and more red wine gravy, followed by chocolate pudding with whipped cream.

I never said it was all bad!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Into the Void

I don't think I really expected to be alone for so long. I am, after all, an intelligent, attractive woman. I think I have a lot to offer. Other people seem to manage it quite well, but it just hasn't happened for me. There have been skirmishes. I have scars.

Of course it's not easy, coming from the back of the pack, trailing damage and baggage, and it probably doesn't help that I live in the back of beyond, in established couple territory. The price you pay for being in the catchment area of a good state school. Not that they are all living happily ever after, but with house prices being sky high, and the astronomical cost of divorce for those with good careers, most of them have too much to lose to cut and run. But that's fine. Marriage and family are the glue in society.

I did wonder, when it all fell apart, if I should hot tail back to London and take my chance there and if it had been just me, there would have been no question. So I stayed but time passes, children grow up and leave home, my youngest son will leave school within the next three years. What then? I have made a life for myself here, I have some good friends whom I cherish, a job I enjoy that fits in with my family commitments.

Do I step into the void, older, perhaps wiser. Alone?

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

The Blog

The blog is taking over my life.

I was lying in the bath last night, relaxing with my tea lights, a nightly ritual, and suddenly the clouds cleared and the full moon shone brightly through the bathroom window. I don't bother with curtains. There's no-one there. And I found myself trying to work out how to blog it.

Is this a medical condition? Should I worry? Does it happen to other bloggers?

It really is that simple

"Have I told you lately that I love you
Have I told you there's no-one above you
Fill my heart with gladness, take away my sadness
Ease my troubles, that's what you do"
Van Morrison

I dreamt last night that we broke up again, me and the man I had been dating. We spent about four months breaking up last year after a brief, unsatisfactory relationship.  I'm very bad at letting go. In my dream, we were at a party and I was upset about the way he was behaving towards me, so I left, went out into the dark and cold alone. He didn't follow me. He had other priorities.

And when I saw him again, he told me that the problem was me, that when he is networking, he can't think about me at all. So I broke up with him. In my dream. Quite right too.

If you are with someone and you are serious about them, then you put them first.

If you do that everything else falls into place.

If you know you are loved and know you are secure, you can be generous when the pressure is on, because you know he would if he could.

You know there's no-one above you.

It really is that simple.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

In Memoriam

"Time has told me
You came with the dawn
A soul with no footprint
A rose with no thorn"
Nick Drake

To Anthony, who slipped way on this day fourteen years ago
Always loved